Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

It’s spooky season, so it seemed like a good time to pick up Malinda Lo’s latest book, A Line in the Dark, which was pitched as a psychological thriller. I’ve been waiting a while to pick up something by this author, because in theory she sounds like the perfect author for me (queer rewritings of fairy tales! advocacy for diversity in YA!), but in practice, the reviews of her books are…mixed. So I thought I’d wait until I could have a totally fresh perspective and pick up her newest (and, I hoped, best) work.

So with that said, let’s get into it!

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

I don’t know if I’m making it a habit to comment on covers, but look. This is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year, okay.

A Line in the Dark

So, like I said, this book was pitched as a psychological thriller. It’s about Jess Wong, her best friend Angie (who she has a deep crush on), Angie’s new girlfriend, Margot, and a lot of gossip and catty stuff that segues into a mysterious missing person situation.

This book is…okay. I mean, on one hand, it’s good. The Jess perspective kind of nails the feeling of having a crush on your best friend but feeling too unattractive/insecure to come out with it, and also feeling not at ease with your body and your queerness because of what others expect of you. It also really got at a class divide between the characters and how that changed the way they perceived one another, and it gave Jess a particular racial/ethnic background (Chinese-American) without making that her single defining trait. Jess’ interactions with her family were also interesting, although disappointingly limited. Margot seems appropriately sinister, and Angie…well, that might be the weak link, because I wasn’t really sure what the deal was with Angie other than that she was pretty and nice and queer and could get along with people, and if I understood her character better, this novel might have worked a bit more, since a lot revolves around her.

The best way I can describe this book is that it feels unfinished. (Yes, it is another short book.) It segues between Jess’ perspective to a third-person perspective somewhere two thirds in, and it’s not really clear why? Margot does a variety of sinister things throughout the novel, but it never quite feels like that comes to a confrontation or like we ever quite understand her motivations for dating Angie in the first place. Ryan, Margot’s bff, has a significant secret that doesn’t really seem to do a lot in the narrative, and she herself doesn’t do a lot in the narrative despite having a significant presence in the beginning. Emily is a character who exists, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than warn Jess that Margot is shady, which was disappointing. Jess’ comic seems like an interesting metaphor for the events of her life, but even though she heavy-handedly expresses certain sentiments in it (like her codependent friendship with Angie), other aspects of her art and how they reflect the story remain kind of weird to understand, even in the end.

This is one of those books that leaves a major event mysterious, then slowly lets things unfold and pulls the answer further and further away as it drops red herrings. The issue with the eventual reveal is that it feels somewhat abrupt. I think if we understood the characters involved a bit better, it might have gotten us more invested in the ending “twist.” Because we (mostly) get Jess’ perspective, it’s not too hard to figure where she’s coming from, but we never really get much insight into Angie, Margot, or the other significant female characters, so it’s hard to make any informed predictions. Some characters who could be suspects in the whodunnit are so undeveloped and out of the picture that they don’t make viable suspects for a reader (since they’re so hardly mentioned), which makes the mystery less mysterious (and the time the police take investigating them and the time that takes in the story seem like a waste).

All in all, this was never boring to read, but the time I spent reading towards payoffs (Jess and Angie having a real talk/confrontation about the state of their friendship, someone calling out Margot on her badness, Jess talking to her family about the difference between their expectations and her reality, Emily spilling the tea, etc.) felt a little wasted by the end, since a lot of those things never really came along.

Gorgeous cover aside, this book wasn’t really a home run with me, as much as I wanted to like it. I don’t think it’ll bore you, and it’ll definitely keep you guessing towards the end, but it’s not exactly the Pretty Little Liars-esque tangle of spooky happenings and dark teen secrets (plus queer girl romance) that I was hoping for. (It’s kind of one spooky happening plus toxic love triangle plus some people are jerks to one another but we don’t really know where they’re all coming from on that.)

Overall:


Do you have any spooky-themed reads lined up for this season? Do you have any thriller/horror favourites? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Welp, this is a really big release and I wasn’t really sure how I was going to react to it?

On one hand, excited, because I do kind of want to like John Green. For all his manic pixie dream girling in his early novels and some of his fumbles in engaging with his fanbase (and detractors), he does really seem like a genuinely nice person IRL who is just…trying and making some mistakes along the way? I don’t know. It is pretty difficult to parse that based on someone’s web persona, but I’ll say that for now.

Also, despite the overwroughtness and problematic moments in The Fault in Our Stars, I totally was sucked in by it. I get it: it’s meta, it’s pretentious, it’s manufacturing sadness, etc. But it’s also just got some really lovely metaphors in it and the characters are well-defined, and I just like it.

So. Is Turtles All the Way Down a TFiOS, or a Looking for Alaska? (Also known as: a book that I threw across the room upon finishing, because just no. No.) Let’s get into it!

Turtles all the way down by John Green

Let’s start out with the cover on this one: while it does follow what kind of looks like the John Green formula now (since so many books copycatted the TFiOS cover in an attempt to sell), I feel like this cover kind of does the book wrong. It’s pretty meh. (I know, I’m a book reviewer, not a designer. But come on, it’s pretty meh.)

Turtles All the Way Down

Okay, so. This book is about Aza, which is the same name as the protagonist of Magonia because I guess John Green and Maria Dahvana Headley and Green are writing buds, but don’t let that distract you.

This Aza is a high school junior with anxiety and OCD that gives her extreme intrusive thoughts. She has a best friend, Daisy, who is a talkative fanfiction writer (useless aside: this is spelled fan-fiction in the book and that bothered me for Reasons), and an old crush, Davis, who is really into famous people quotes and being really existential. (To be fair to Davis, his mother is dead and his neglectful father has just disappeared, so he’s not just entirely Pretentious Emo YA Guy.) Now that Davis’ father is missing and there’s a big reward for finding him, Daisy wants to try to solve the mystery and get the cash.

The good in this novel: Aza’s internal monologue gives us a real insight into her struggle with her illness, and Green puts a lot of heart (and his own experience) into portraying it realistically and in a relatable way. The bits of dialogue in this book that are actually dialogue convey a lot about the characters, and that does tend to be where Green’s novels flow and shine. The book overall twists expectations a few times, and I found myself appreciating that it wasn’t a completely predictable contemporary adventure/romance.

To be clear, although that looks like a short paragraph and what comes below is going to be long, that’s a pretty significant amount of good. I think realistically portraying mental illness in YA is important, and I really appreciate when books don’t completely cleave to formula. I’m especially impressed by this in Green’s case, because this just really isn’t a book about anyone manic pixie-ing someone else? So yes. Significant good.

The bad in this novel: I actually have a really dull complaint to make about this novel. As usual: it was too short. I know, you’re sick of me saying that, but listen: this was under 300 pages long. That was not enough time to a) understand and unpack Aza’s feelings about her father, deceased; b) establish the characters beyond a few key traits, in Aza’s case largely her mental illness; c) understand the status quo of the relationships in the novel so that we can feel the impact of them changing by the end; d) get whole conversations in?

So I’m going to unpack that a little: Aza and Davis originally met at a Sad Camp, as in a place where they went when they were both mourning the loss of their parents. Aza clearly is still in mourning about the loss of her father, as she still clings deeply and regularly to the material reminders she has of him, but yet we don’t learn really anything unique about their relationship whatsoever (and very little to characterize him).

Secondly: although the portrayal of Aza’s mental illness really seems to work here, I’m not 100% sure how to feel about Aza, the character. On one hand, I get that Aza herself is struggling with who she is because of the intrusive thoughts and how they intrude on her ability to be who she wants to be. On the other hand, I vaguely know that she’s good at school and probably pretty and that she likes some music, sometimes, but beyond her illness, it’s really hard to track even the simplest things about who she is: what subjects she’s good at, what bores her, what kinds of boys she finds cute. Green implants her with the old chestnut he gives to basically all of his characters: her own problems make her self-centred, and she has to learn throughout the narrative to pay more attention to other people and their issues. That’s fine, since a lot of people are a bit self-centred, and especially if they have a lot to work through, but it’s not particularly original or interesting, and it doesn’t give me something to pin to Aza as being…Aza.

Thirdly: Aza’s relationships with her best friend, mother, and love interest shift throughout this novel, but we don’t really get much time to establish a status quo of what those interactions were like regularly before the novel, so it’s hard to feel the impact? Daisy and Aza, for example, have a conversation about their friendship that feels unearned because we don’t really have the context for it. Davis’ relationships with his father and brother, which also seem somewhat important to understand to invest in the novel, also feel pretty hazy in definition.

Lastly: this novel glosses over conversations a lot. The dialogue will start, then it’ll devolve into “So then he told me about how…” Which isn’t necessarily a totally invalid thing to do? But it happens a bunch of times, particularly between Davis and Aza, and it’s just…okay. So one of the great things about dialogue, even when it’s mostly one-sided, is how you can describe the other person and how they’re paying attention, how they’re moving, how they’re breathing, how they’re reacting. And you can describe how the talking person is telling their story, if they’re moving, how excited they are, how nervous. That’s what creates tension and excitement, I think, in moments where two people are really talking and trying to be close to one another; seeing how someone feels about opening up, seeing how someone else responds to it. Quite a few times in this book, we just don’t get that, so it’s as if the characters are talking at each other in a vacuum and not really…with one another? (All of these people feel profoundly self-centred.)

So, okay, all of that said. Let’s wrap that back up.

My beef: this book is too short to really invest in the characters and their growth. The bright side: this was a quick, easy read that didn’t stick to formula, and it had some great metaphors and moments to get readers who haven’t experienced intrusive thoughts to understand where Aza is coming from. It was also really not emotionally overwrought; it’s relatively underwritten given some of the pretty sad moments and character backgrounds, avoiding pushing its readers past the brink where possible (and where TFiOS would’ve gone, “CRY, READER, CRY”). (But Davis is still a little bit annoyingly pretentious, and my suspension of disbelief is challenged by someone who doesn’t understand conversations about Star Wars, okay.)

Overall: 


Have any of you picked up this book? What are your thoughts on it? Do you have any fall releases you’re itching to get to? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Five Books I’m Thankful For

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Thanksgiving (in Canada) has just passed, and controversial though that holiday is (we’re still not great to our First Nations peoples), I do still like the idea of thinking back on what we’re thankful for (and pumpkins, and dinner feasts).

So I thought I’d do something similar to what I did last year and talk a bit about some books I’m thankful for. Not so grandly over the course of my life, but since I started this blog. As much as I like being a blogger and a reader, reading and blogging can be tough to keep up with consistently when you work other day (and/or night) jobs, and a bunch of mediocre reads or poorly-performing posts in a row can really get you down.

So I think it’s important to give a nod to the books that make me keep wanting to do this, for coming along just when I need them. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing

I know, I know, this book shows up on basically every “good” book list I make. But when I started this blog last year, I was already partway through a challenge for myself where I intended to read 95 books for the year (I ended up reading 128, which by this year’s standards seems ridiculous), and a lot of the things I’d read were, well, not awesome. So this was an early reminder that books could still make me cry, make me smile, and leave me happy. (Along these lines: I’ll Give You the Sun, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

After almost a year of reading books where sexual assault (or a threat of sexual assault) was used as a trope to make a heroine’s story more tragic or show how valiantly her love interest could save her, it was a deep, deep relief to read a book like this, one that takes sexual assault seriously and deals with its aftermath and the way it seeps into every corner of someone’s life. (Along these lines but much darker: The Female of the Species.)

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe

Just when I thought I was ready to give up on dystopians, here comes utopian (but kind of dystopian, really) world to change my mind. (This was extra timely, because it was the second book in a reading marathon where the first book was The Bone Season, a really loved book online that I ended up absolutely disliking for the awful romance.) Shusterman’s spin on the dystopia in Scythe is super refreshing, and this book was a lot of fun. I have to keep my fingers crossed I’ll still feel thankful for it once I read the sequel, but I’m hoping I’ll continue enjoying this world and its characters. This year I read another Shusterman book, Unwind, and he paints another very interesting dystopian world, but I feel like his writing has…maybe developed since then? (Along these lines but in the sci-fi genre: Defy the Stars was a pleasant surprise, and proof I should keep on hoping for great sci-fi.)

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood

This book is very difficult to describe, but it revolves around a setting and pairs of people who meet each other in it. It’s really a unique, different concept and it relies on fleshing out a common setting and telling the stories of the connections between people to drive the mystery/adventure/horror/whatever it is forward. This book was a reminder that I could still be completely surprised, that some books will defy categorization and set aside genre patterns. (Along these lines, but more historical fiction and less conceptual: The Smell of Other People’s Houses, which I loved.)

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star

While there were definitely other books that I enjoyed reading in my second chances series (Three Dark Crowns, Six of Crows, etc.), it was this book that made it hit home that my blog series where I take second chances on authors, which is probably the only real series I have going on here, is actually a really worthwhile thing. I really liked this book (and there’s no sequel to make me feel differently about it, thankfully), and it retained those aspects of style and character I liked in her previous novel while, in my opinion, evolving quite a bit past it. That’s the kind of thing that make second chances worth the while!


Which books have kept you reading over the past couple of years? Are there any that really affected you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’ve finally managed to circle back around to some new reads (not that I didn’t enjoy my re-read of His Dark Materials thoroughly), and it’s back to fairy tale retellings, it would seem! Only one of these things is not like the others, so let’s talk about that.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

(I like the cover, but this title is way too clunky.)

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a kind of Snow White/The Snow Queen (Frozen) fairy tale mash-up about a not-so-evil stepmother (Mina) with a glass heart and her snowy stepdaughter (Lynet). There’s also a huntsman, an evil sorcerer, a cursed kingdom, and a touch of queer romance.

On the face of it, I like this book. Though the women in it are pitted against each other, they don’t want to be. In their own ways, they want to be close to one another, even though on the face of it, they’re in competition to be the queen. Our princess has a female love interest. Most of the twists and turns here exist to make women the central agents of their own stories, and the weird, petty vanity that comes with the original Snow White tale is overturned here.

The concept, if you sum up the plot of this retelling in a few sentences? Great. The execution? Ehhh.

The book relies on the relationships between characters to provide motivation and emotional beats in the story, but those relationships fall fairly flat since they’re told and not shown. Mina has a cruel and neglectful father, but mostly we know that from her inner monologue rather than their interactions, which are few. Lynet adores Mina, but we mostly know that from her inner monologue because we only get a glimpse into a couple of fleeting private moments of closeness. Mina cares for Lynet more than she cares to admit, but…well, you get the picture.

We get a really good sense of these characters’ motivations, since they, well, tell us constantly within their internal monologue—but what brought them to that point is relatively obscured. Lynet tells us about her father being overprotective of her and acts out about how trapped she is, so we know that it’s his way of acting with her that motivates her recklessness—but we don’t get a lot of interaction with her father (or anyone enforcing his rules) to really feel that trapped sense with Lynet.

This kind of tell-don’t-show thing is pervasive in the novel and really weakens it. It’s also perhaps notable that this story setting isn’t particularly vivid. We get a reasonably good sense of the castle’s layout, but not a lot of what makes its beauty unique. We briefly hear about the hardship of the people living in a perpetual winter, but we see very little what that looks like. There are many nobles living in the castle, but only one of them ever seems to be significant.

So…as much as this was a neat, dare I say it fairly feminist take on the two fairy tales it takes up, the concept is far better than the execution, in this case. I do hope I can give it another shot with this author one day, since really I can get behind the premise here, but this was a pretty average read for me, all things considered. I never felt like I had to just put it down or that it was too slow or boring, but I have the feeling it won’t be one that sticks with me beyond some of the unique retold aspects.

Overall:


The search for the perfect fairy tale retelling continues. Do you have any favourites? Any suggestions of one I should try next? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Totally Should’ve Book Tag

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’m currently in the middle of re-reading The Amber Spyglass, so now seems like the optimal time for a book tag! I don’t actually know this one’s origins or where I first saw it; I’ve just seen it kicking around on blogs, so I thought I’d take a crack. If you want to do it, consider yourself tagged!

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… NOT GOTTEN A SEQUEL

I think a lot of duologies/trilogies/other series had diminishing returns for me after the first book (The Remnant Chronicles, Half Bad, The Lunar Chronicles, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, basically most things), but I think I’ll go with Shiver here (from the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy).

Shiver

It’s pretty close to a self-contained love story/unique take on werewolves story, with a conceit that works to add tension and is mostly irrelevant in subsequent books (the charting of the temperature), and I wasn’t in love with leaving Grace’s perspective in following books since her love interest, although a good one, is…better to read about than from.

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… HAD A SPIN-OFF SERIES

This would be way too dark, probably, but I’d love to read prequel books about some of the other victors of previous Hunger Games and what they were doing to slowly rebel. Finnick gathering secrets, Johanna in her angry isolation (was there ever someone she loved?), Haymitch drowning his sorrows as he watches children die, waiting for the day he can do something about it. (Haymitch’s memories of the people he did love.)

Okay, that’s really dark, but still. I like the world of those books, and I’d love to read more about how it came about. Plus I thought about it so I wouldn’t just have the standard “we need a Marauders-era Harry Potter series” kind of answer, so. Points, right?

(And while on one hand, I’m interested in that era and those characters, on the other hand, I’m less enamoured of J.K. Rowling than perhaps I was in childhood, given all the weird Ilvermorny stuff and the fact that she put her name on Cursed Child, which is terrible, but we’re talking about a daydream here anyway, so.)

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… ENDED DIFFERENTLY

I actually can’t think of any book over the past year where it was specifically the ending that ruined it for me? Usually if I’m not really down with a book, the ending isn’t really why. (Movies, however, are totally a different animal in that respect.)

I guess I could say something like Everything, Everything, where the ending just felt really abrupt (sometimes short books just don’t really give the post-climax much time to breathe; also looking at you, Under Rose-Tainted Skies), or maybe Aerie, just because it felt like such a rushed sequel to Magonia, which I liked and felt had potential, although I have realized how problematic it can be (introducing a character with an illness/disability who just…doesn’t actually have an illness/disability, which is a whole trope in YA these days).

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… HAD A TV SHOW / FILM FRANCHISE

Harry Potter Marauders-era TV show is an answer, right? Am I cheating if I say that?

Okay, but seriously. (I like Harry Potter, but I don’t want the saturation of it in the world to be over 9000.) My greatest desire would be to see the HBO or similar network adaptation of the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, because I just absolutely love that series and I tend to re-read it almost every year. (It isn’t YA, but I’m allowed to branch out a little.)

Kushiel's Legacy

Yes, these covers are really dated now, but the books are still great.

If I had to pick a YA series, I might go with something like Wolf by Wolf. I wasn’t 100% impressed with the duology, but I feel like it’s the kind of premise (an alternate future where the Nazis won and a young girl is trying to win a motorcycle race to get the chance to kill Hitler) that would translate well to TV, since some of what I was lacking (more race action, more detailed worldbuilding) could easily be slotted in.

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… HAD ONE POINT OF VIEW

I’m hesitant to accept when a series suddenly changes from one POV to more, so I’m not 100% sold on Allegiant‘s choice, for example. But most of the time, I can get on board with two or more POVs or just drifting from mind to mind.

I can’t think of anything recent with more than one POV that I’d want to boil down to one? Maybe something like Every Heart a Doorway, since it’s so intensely short and not slipping from mind to mind could’ve given it a bit more focus.

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… HAD A COVER CHANGE

In terms of ugly covers I’ve read lately, the UK cover of Letters to the Lost probably takes the cake, especially for including a really cheesy tagline.

Letters to the Lost

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… STOPPED READING

I don’t know why I finished the first Selection trilogy, or the Half Bad trilogy, or the Winner’s Curse trilogy, or…a lot of trilogies, probably. I just gain momentum and don’t turn back. To my credit, although I read Red Queen and Glass Sword, I haven’t picked up King’s Cage. Every once in a while, I can learn from my mistakes.

…but I’ve only had a DNF once on this blog, so the learning is still a process.

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… KEPT THE COVER

I am not into any of the covers beyond the originals of His Dark Materials, which I no longer have, so I’m kind of bitter about that.

The Golden Compass

Come back. ;_;

TOTALLY SHOULD’VE… NOT PREJUDGED

I put off reading Midwinterblood for ages because I read My Swordhand is Singing when I was younger and hated it, so I wasn’t on great terms with the author. When I did finally manage to get to it, it was one of my favourite reads of the season.

Midwinterblood

Which is why I try really hard not to prejudge when I’m doing author second chances, these days!


Feel free to tag yourselves and link me your take on this tag in the comments! Thanks for reading, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Monthly Reads: September 2017

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’m still not reading at the rate I’d like to be, but hopefully I’ll start catching up in the cooler months of tea, cozy blankets, and curling up in armchairs. I have at least started my re-read of the His Dark Materials trilogy, which I’m pretty sure will get some momentum going for me because I’m pretty excited about it (and hopeful about The Book of Dust next month).

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the SpeciesOne of my best of the season and maybe of the year so far, to be honest.

This book is about rape culture, largely, but more specifically it’s about a protagonist who killed her sister’s murderer/rapist, the friend she makes volunteering at an animal shelter, and the guy from her school who takes an interest in her. The subject matter is serious, obviously, especially since this is one of those rare books that deals with the subject of sexual assault well, but there are actually a few good laughs, and it’s a really engaging read.

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of CagesThis book was…okay.

This one is about two teen boys who re-meet in high school; once they were like brothers, but the younger of them was taken in by his uncle into an abusive household, while the other has grown up among friends and love.

The two protagonists are very likeable, but this book is one of those that really seems averse to medication for mental health issues (the older boy has ADHD, treated by…green juice, I guess), and it’s otherwise…it has some hit or miss subplots. I enjoyed the experience okay, but it’s not really a keep for me.

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

One Dark ThroneI was a bit disappointed by this sequel, to be honest.

I quite liked Three Dark Crowns, despite its issues, and I was glad I took a second chance on the author to pick it up. This follow-up was…I don’t know. I enjoyed the slow build of the first novel, although others were bored by it; I liked the amount of character information and development, and the time we spent with the people surrounding the three queens. This book definitely was more fast-paced, which some people will definitely like better, but I also just didn’t feel like it really raised the stakes very much? It felt a little like it chickened out on its premise.

It did really change the game by the end of the book, and I didn’t hate this, so I don’t know. Maybe the third book (of four, apparently) will bring it back for me, but I don’t know. I find these things are usually one way (all uphill or all downhill) for me. We’ll see.

Warcross by Marie Lu

WarcrossI took a second chance on Marie Lu. It was not regrettable.

Warcross is a semi-futuristic sci-fi where people all around the world engage in a virtual game (the titular one) that makes use of real world environments and fantasy ones, and has vaguely MMORPG-type party roles. It’s a pretty neat premise, given how not far off it feels. The protagonist is a hacker noticed by the creator of the game and recruited to do some spying within the game world.

This book gets by on its neat world; its protagonist is likeable enough, but a little too perfect, and there isn’t much time spent on developing other characters. The plot is reasonably predictable. Still, I think I’ll read on; this felt a bit short, but the ideas were neat.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I haven’t re-read this series in ages, so it was really neat to get back to it. (I actually lost my original copies, so this is the variant cover I have now. I miss the original. Sadness.)

If you haven’t read the His Dark Materials trilogy, here goes: it’s at least initially about a young girl (Lyra) from an alternate world where everyone has a talking animal companion that’s basically their soul, and she’s kind of a chosen one who ends up on an adventure across many strange lands where she meets witches, talking bears, and a lot of other unlikely allies.

It sounds absolutely fantasy whacky, but a lot of it is also a bunch of people doing scientific and theological experiments, so it feels oddly grounded.

Lyra is a great protagonist. She’s curious, brave, proud, fierce, loyal, compassionate, and a liar. She’s complicated and not perfect. She’s basically just really refreshing to read. (Also, she’s eleven when the series starts so not every boy is a love interest, which is nice.)


I’ve already started The Subtle Knife, so reading life is good for now! (I might finish it before the end of the month, but…as of writing this, it would be premature to add.)

What have you been reading lately? What are you looking forward to curling up with during the spooky season? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Welp, I’m still in a reading slump (though now for a good reason, since I’ve had a lot more work to do!), but at the very least, I’ve gotten started on my fall TBR. And my next round of second chances reads!

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross

My first Marie Lu read was Legend, and I didn’t hate it, but I was just…unimpressed. It felt like a pretty standard dystopian-by-numbers and a kind of contrived dual-protagonist romance situation? The setting felt like it had some heart to it, but I just couldn’t get into it enough to continue the series.

Warcross was definitely better for me, but not my favourite really? But we’ll get into that.

Warcross is a semi-futuristic sci-fi setting where almost everyone plays a virtual game that’s sort of RPGesque, sort of interactive with real world environments; kind of like an MMORPG and Pokémon Go rolled up together, plus some? Our main character is a master hacker and bounty hunter on hard times who gets noticed by the creator of the game and asked to dive in as a spy, which leads her to some adventures and serious intrigue.

Again in this book, the setting elements, or maybe more worldbuilding elements, were probably some of the strongest aspects, although this skips between New York, Tokyo, and some imaginary environments. The game, its players, and its fans made up for an interesting and timely premise, given that it’s not so far off from the way games are progressing today? (And the way that digital intrigue works is interesting, too.)

The main character, Emika, is pretty likeable, but also feels a lot wish fulfillment? Which is weird to say, since all YA protagonists are remarkable with a lot of plot armor and a pheromone that makes them desirable to everyone, but it just feels kind of…extra in this case. The way she goes from rags to riches through the book, the way she’s good at everything she does, the way she immediately attracts romantic attention, the way she keeps brilliant rainbow hair while living on too-little ramen…well, I mean, she’s a protagonist, but it also did feel like a bit much how quickly she was able to adapt to everything.

Maybe this was a matter of the book not being overly long? It does skim over quite a bit of the games and the game details in the book, so we don’t always get to see Emika’s abilities in the virtual world in action, but more so get told some few amazing things she can do. The novel also doesn’t spend too long providing us with Emika’s abilities before plunging her into the action, which on one hand I don’t mind because I’d rather get right into it, but it does make it difficult to accept all of the things she’s great at.

The plot of this moved quickly, so it wasn’t ever boring, although it definitely felt fairly predictable. Still, in this case, the world and premise were interesting enough (and the protagonist, though a bit too perfect, likeable enough) that I’ll probably continue with this series, although I’m not sure how long it’s planned to be.

So this second chance worked out, mostly? I wouldn’t say I’m not a Marie Lu fan per se, but I think I will most likely pick up her next book, and hopefully it’ll develop further the aspects of this world that I liked.

(And yeah, I’ll be back soon with more second chance reads, since it’s still working pretty well.)

Overall:


Have you been reading any sci-fi recently? Any favourites or recommendations you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak with you again soon!

Best & Worst: My Summer Reads

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Yet again, I’m here to wrap up a season to make my end of year posts easier to sort out. This wrap-up is a little iffy, to be honest, since I had a total reading slump in August and I re-read the entire Harry Potter series in late June/early July, which I’m not counting among reads here because like, new reads.

(If you want to count re-reads, you can consider those among my best. I don’t think I can be objective about Harry Potter at all, but I always really enjoy reading them, so there you are.)

Anyway, the bests are the books that stand out to me as the season wraps up; the worst are ones that disappointed me in one way or another. In no particular order, because ordered lists are maybe for suckers? Or maybe just for later in the year. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Best

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the Species

My ordering thing aside, this has got to be the standout of the season and the one book I would definitely recommend, as long as you can handle the topic. (It has a few graphic moments about sexual assault, which it’s essentially about, and of violence, which is how one of its protagonists deals with the former issue.)

This book is about Alex, who killed the man who raped and murdered her sister; Jack, the guy who’s into her; and PK, her coworker at the animal shelter. It’s also a lot about rape culture. It’s a tough read, but it had a real impact.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a StarY’all, my second chances series has been paying dividends pretty often, so you can guarantee I’ll be doing that forever.

Anyway, this outing by Nicola Yoon is about a pair of teens who meet by chance in NYC when one of them is on their way to a college interview, and one of them is trying desperately not to get deported. It’s very much a fate, romance, butterfly effect kind of novel, so if you can’t get into anything that takes that remotely seriously (I think this book does challenge itself on that, given how scientific the female protagonist is), then you are likely to eyeroll yourself into another plane of being.

But if you can jam with a little dash on instalove and fated romance and you’re looking for something fresh in terms of not-the-standard-two-perspective-romance bit, then this might be what you’re looking for. Lovely writing, likeable characters, everyone has a story. I dug it.

Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali

Saints and MisfitsI don’t know if this book would’ve made another season’s list; it was a solid, enjoyable read, but I went with three stars for it because it’s a bit busy and short (a common complaint of mine, so maybe that’s a bit subjective).

Still, this one is worth checking out, especially since it’s fairly unique. It’s a slice-of-life about a Muslim hijabi teen that deals with the topics of sexual assault and of Janna’s day-to-day life (her family, friendships, responsibilities, and interests) with equal poise. It has stuck in my mind for the season, for sure.

Worst

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel BeautyI’m not really sure what I expected from this one, but I guess I heard it was one of the darker, more complexly written fairy tale rewrites in the genre. I appreciated the bitterness of the beauty in this Beauty and the Beast situation, but this kind of read like Once Upon a Time Belle/Rumple fanfiction? (And I have read better in that genre.) So it let me down pretty hard.

I think one of my issues with this genre? subgenre?…anyway, my issue is often that we have to buy into a romance that’s barely developed at all, then we also have to get over the fact that the male love interest tells the protagonist nothing, and we are reading from the perspective of that protagonist, and so we don’t know a blessed thing about what’s happening until near the end. But also the protagonist has to prove her love somehow to some dude who’s been lying at least by omission all along whose relationship with her I never invested in, and…yeah, you get it.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched QueenThis was also kind of a retelling that drew elements from Greek mythology and Indian folklore. That premise sounded incredibly neat, but the execution…fell short for me.

The plot was pretty confusing, as is that same genre where the male love interest keeps things from the protagonist, so then you as the reader just have no dang idea what’s even happening until the very end. And this was really, really guilty on that point because what was even going on.

The horse here was a cool character, and this really showed its mythic roots in interesting ways, but…yeah, I’m going to have to take a mulligan on this author for when she starts a new series.

Because You Love to Hate Me, edited by Ameriie

Because You Love to Hate MeThis was an anthology of stories about villains written by YA authors in collaboration with BookTubers who gave them prompts and then wrote essayish pieces in response to the results. This isn’t the worst or anything; some of the stories are actually pretty great (I really liked Victoria Schwab’s, in particular), although there are definitely weak outings, too (and a few prompts I thought were kind of boring, sorry BookTubers).

But I’m not sure that the idea of the collection meshed very well; the BookTuber essays about the stories/their prompts sometimes felt tacked on, even though I generally really enjoy BookTube. (I guess I could’ve skipped them, but then I’m skipping a third of the book, so that’s not the biggest endorsement either?)


Fall is here: pumpkin spice, Hallowe’en, autumn leaves, sweater weather…I love all of these things, but maybe not their proximity to the harsh, long winter. What are your favourite types of books to read during the harvest season? Did you love or hate any of my best/worst list? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Top Eight Books on My Fall TBR

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Today I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish to bring you my fall TBR (or what I hope I’ll eventually get around to).

Another season, another TBR to probably do very badly at keeping up with. I still haven’t read everything from my TBR fails (I can sense there will be another post of that type in my future) or everything from my last-minute summer reads, but it’s a new season with new releases and dang it, I’m going to want to move on and read some of them.

(I’m really behind on my reading goals for this year, but chilly seasons are very good for curling up with tea and a book, so I’m optimistic about the next few months.)

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Fall 2017 tbr

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross

I want to do some more second-chancing in the fall, and this book is at the top of my list since I got my pre-order recently in the mail. (It takes a while when I pre-order from Book Depository since I’m in Canada, but their prices are also really good, so.)

I tried Legend by this author and was really underwhelmed, although I thought her use of setting was decent. Warcross is less dystopian and more sci-fi thriller with hackers and gaming and (futuristic?)Tokyo, and I am looking forward to seeing if I can get into this author.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades by Marissa MeyerSpeaking of second chances: I was also underwhelmed by the Lunar Chronicles series, which a lot of people in YA blogging seem to love but I thought just got more and more bloated by the book and was also irritatingly heteronormative (so, so many couples and even robots with sexualities but everyone is straight) and at least somewhat culturally appropriative/iffy in terms of the use of the setting in Cinder so ehhh.

I didn’t hate this series (it had its moments of interesting fairy tale reimagining) and I think it’s pretty cool that Meyer is open about her fanfiction-writing past (I first learned about her YA books because I read some of her old Sailor Moon fanfic), so I’m open to seeing if her X-Men type book is a better outing.

This isn’t out until November, so it’s possible I’ll get put off before then by reviews of ARCs (I was going to try this author again for Heartless, but reviews were pretty mixed on BookTube so I held off), but I sometimes sacrifice myself for the sake of my blog series.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire by Kristin CashoreOkay, so I didn’t really dislike Graceling, but I was just kind of disappointed with it given that it’s so highly recommended by so many people? But I’ve heard Cashore’s books just get better and the protagonists change, so I may as well give this a shot, since I liked the world.

(Also it looks like I have a fair amount of sci-fi and contemporary ahead of me, so I may as well throw in a dash of good old fantasy.)

This takes place in the same realm as Graceling, but it’s about a girl named Fire who can control minds, but doesn’t want to. Sounds intriguing?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterGrief and diversity seem to be the key ingredients in the contemporaries I end up really enjoying, for some reason, so this is exactly the kind of book I can get excited to cry about. It’s about Julia, whose older sister, Olga (the perfect one), died.

This has a lot of buzz around it and is described as a mix between The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (one of my favourite YAs) and other stuff, so it’s definitely something I’m anxiously awaiting. (I’ve already pre-ordered this one.)

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green(This cover is extremely boring, but it’s what my bookstore is showing me so I guess I’ll be living with it.)

Another very hyped fall release. And kind of a second chance, to be honest? I’ve read all of John Green’s books, and the only one I’m sure I like is The Fault in Our Stars (which I can recognize still has some issues, but I cried a lot anyway). John Green seems like a nice person, and people I know are into his videos, so it’d be nice to be on better terms with his work.

This is about a girl named Aza who is investigating a mystery and also has a mental illness, I think? I don’t know. But the fact that the protagonist is a girl is promising, because manic pixie dream boys are much less irritating. (Okay, sorry, I promise I will try to read this book with an open mind.)

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials

Okay, so this is a slight cheat because a) it’s three books in one, and b) it’s a re-read.

But I recently picked up a new boxed set of this series so I could re-read it before The Book of Dust, and also because in general it’s been many years since I’ve read it, and I want to know if it lives up to my memory of how great it was.

If you don’t know, this is a middle grade fantasy trilogy about an adventurous young girl named Lyra, who investigates the disappearance of a young boy. There’s all sorts of cool stuff in this series: rad magical objects, talking bears, animal familiars, etc. It is so worth checking out and the movie adaptation does it so wrong.


What are you planning to read (or re-read) this fall? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I was lucky enough to get my hands on this sequel book ahead of time, and of course I read it right away because I actually had a lot of fun reading the first one.

…but I wasn’t in a large camp on that. The book previous to this in the series (the Three Dark Crowns series? tetralogy? I’m not sure), Three Dark Crowns, got a lot of mixed reviews, and I understand why. It introduces a whacky but fun premise—that triplet girls have to kill each other for the queenship when they turn 16, and that they trained in different strains of particular magic—but then proceeds…slowly. The first book spends a lot of time introducing each sister, her foster family, her love interests (and we spend a fair bit of time on romance, given the urgency of imminent death), the world, etc. It’s really mainly about them readying themselves for this murder-time and the political posturing that comes with their birthday celebrations.

Other than some of the romantic drama being kind of boring to me, I actually enjoyed the slow pace of the first book and the way that getting to know the characters surrounding and invested in each of these young women made me care about them and whether or not they’d win. I also liked getting a sense of their personalities, their different upbringings, their investments (or lack thereof) in becoming the queen.

One Dark Throne is definitely different. So let’s get to that.

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

One Dark Throne

One Dark Throne picks up not long after we left off in book one, and so the games of these sisters going after each other have really begun. It’s always hard to review a sequel while trying to avoid all spoilers, even for the previous book, so bear with me in my utter vagueness.

This book probably would’ve benefitted from me re-reading the first one right before getting into it, because it really doesn’t waste much time on exposition to reintroduce you to anyone. If your issue with Three Dark Crowns was that it was slow, but you got through it and are at least vaguely intrigued as to what will happen, then you will probably like One Dark Throne. The pacing is much faster, the romance is much more lighthanded, and things are getting much more murderous.

For me, though, this has its ups and downs. This book doesn’t spend a lot of time on character moments where you really feel the bonds between these queens and the people surrounding them as the first book did, so it was hard to emotionally reinvest myself in the characters. Which was probably important, because now the stakes are getting higher and people in the crossfire are going to die.

The first book ends with a mystery about something that happened to one sister and a revelation about another, and neither of those things are furthered particularly in this book. While the events seem to come at you fast in this book, it does feel, in contrast, that the author is really going to take her time with certain aspects, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

In any case, the mystery…has not much explanation, though someone investigates it (and then we don’t learn what was found out), and some stuff happens related to one sister’s revelation, but she personally doesn’t do much about it, so I was hoping for more there, too.

This book feels like it has decided to put forward a fourth main character, and the revelation about her is…a thing that brought up some mixed feelings for me. I wasn’t really too interested in this character other than her relationship to the queens, so the fact that this book lines up an arc of her own for her is…well, I’m not sure how much I care about that. But I’m willing to say that I might be more interested as it goes forward.

I do appreciate that by the end of the book, it feels like the author has changed the scope of the series, so that’s certainly interesting, although I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that, either. It could mean that the next book will be full of surprises; it could mean that the premise of these books will be extraordinarily dragged out. I’m obviously hoping for the former, but I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge of this author to know where this is going.

I feel kind of shaky about this book; it definitely ditched some of the overwrought romance of the first that felt tiresome, so that was great, and I don’t think I ever felt bored, but I think what I enjoyed about the first book was its character moments, which are fewer and farther between here.

Still, I’m not sure if I would like it more if I read it with the context of the first one more fresh, and I feel reasonably certain that most people will like this better. (It’s like Season 1 vs. Season 2 of Sense8. I am probably the one person who prefers Season 1.) I also feel like I’ll probably go on to read the third book, because it feels like the end of this book tore things open a bit, so that might be a different animal to the first two, and that could be a good or bad thing.

In a vacuum, though? This wasn’t my favourite. I was glad more happened, but I definitely think the book didn’t leave much breathing room to feel the emotional impacts, and after such a slow and angsty first book, that felt kind of like whiplash.

Overall:


Are you more into fastpaced action or books that are slower and more character-driven? Will you be picking up One Dark Throne? (If you had the issues I listed with Three Dark Crowns, you probably will like it better.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!